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So How DO You Take a Picture of a Black Hole?

black hole

[DIGEST: IFLS; astronomy; phys.org; National Geographic; astronomy.fas.harvard.edu😉

Taking a picture of a black hole focuses less on its core than its edges, and the light and debris surrounding it. Scientists have long believed that black holes are large, extremely strong gravitational bodies that prevent even light from escaping. A series of special telescopes were placed across the globe to capture giant amounts of data about a black hole in our own galaxy. Researchers now begin to process this information, hoping to create the first photograph of a black hole by 2018.

An Earth-Sized Telescope

Scientists primarily focused on photographing the supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*) in the center of the Milky Way. Sgr A* is only about 30 times larger than our sun and is 26,000 light years away. Gopal Narayanan of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who works on the project, explained that the size and distance makes this effort akin to photographing a grapefruit on the Moon.

To improve visibility, scientists developed the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), which collects data through eight telescopes spread across the globe. This technology, known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), requires multiple telescopes in numerous locations to observe the same object. The use of VLBI creates highly detailed images of tiny sections of the sky.

“Instead of building a telescope so big that it would probably collapse under its own weight, we combined eight observatories like the pieces of a giant mirror,” according to Michael Bremer, project manager for the Event Horizon Telescope. “This gave us a virtual telescope as big as Earth.” Bremer added, “For the first time in our history, we have the technological capacity to observe black holes in detail.”

What Will Scientists See?

Even though they’ve never actually seen one, scientists have long believed that the massive gravitational forces known as black holes exist. Primary evidence for black holes includes

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  • Amy McElroy is a contributing editor and writer for Rewire Me. She has written for print, radio, and online publications such as The Bold Italic, The Billfold, Noodle, Cosmopolitan, BlogHer, and others. Her website, amyjmcelroy.net, lists her editorial services. She’s on twitter at @amyjmcelroy. Amy balances her work at the computer by teaching yoga and fitness.

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